At the age of 39, Kathy thought she was too young to have bowel cancer – and so did doctors.

I’d been having stomach problems for about a year but no one seemed to know what was wrong with me. Certainly no one mentioned bowel cancer.

“The first sign of illness was a pain in my right side which spread to my back. The doctors sent me for a cervical scan. I tried telling them the pain was higher up but it made no difference.

“The pains got steadily worse and the nausea began. Over time, I saw four different doctors who diagnosed Irritable Bowel Syndrome and chronic acid reflux.

“For about four months I was taking mebeverine for IBS and omeprazole for acid reflux. They were making me feel quite sick and I definitely wasn’t getting any better.

“At the same time I was also losing weight but I didn’t think too much of it because I was doing a lot of personal training and also dieting.

I’d wake up in the morning feeling totally shattered, too exhausted to get out of bed.

“I tried glucose and lactose-free diets and they seemed to work for a while, but then I reverted to the way I was: chronically tired with a pain in my side. I thought maybe it was colitis.

Kathy found she was exhausted all the time

“When the rectal bleeding started, I phoned the surgery and it was shrugged off as piles. I thought ‘surely, piles isn’t this severe’.

“It was only when I went to a new junior doctor that he finally put all the symptoms together: the weight loss, tiredness, pain in my side and the bleeding. He said they all pointed to cancer although it probably wasn’t that because I was too young.

“More tests followed. The tiredness was diagnosed as anaemia and I was given iron tablets. Obviously they didn’t help much.

Then I was sent for a colonoscopy. When the results came through, that’s when I heard the words ‘bowel cancer’ for the first time.

“Within weeks I started chemotherapy (in August 2014) to shrink the slow-growing tumour in my bowel. They said it had probably been there for three or four years.

“After three chemo sessions I got neutropenia (a reaction to chemotherapy) and a bowel blockage which meant I was vomiting the contents of my bowel. I ended up having emergency surgery when they removed the tumour and part of my bowel (a right hemicolectomy).

That operation saved my life. I was also lucky I didn’t have to have a stoma.

“After that there were two more chemo sessions and I’m now in recovery.

“I consider myself extremely lucky. The cancer was stage 2 and it hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes.

When I was first diagnosed I wrote letters to my children and my mum because I thought I might not make it. Then I realised I couldn’t think like that and I had to get on with it. The letters are unopened in a drawer upstairs.

“I was honest with our children (aged 10 and 8) from the start. It was a big shock to them, and I had to reassure them I was going to be okay even though I didn’t know if that was the case. My whole family was brilliant.

“Having survived bowel cancer has changed my whole attitude to life. I decided to swim with dolphins – which I did this year. I no longer get involved in any nonsense – cancer makes you realise what’s really important.

“I was one of those people who thought ‘that won’t happen to me’, but it did. I want other people – including doctors – to know that bowel cancer doesn’t just affect older people. It happened to me. And I’m lucky. I survived.”